Monday, March 26, 2007

Sake Samurai in Tokyo (nearly a year later!)

On our first full day in Tokyo, we went to Sake Plaza, located in the Central Brewers' Union's Building in Shinbashi. This was fun, except for the fact that all of the information was in Japanese. Of course, I bought all the little sake booklets. Other purchases included a water pitcher and cups and a hydrometer to measure the smv (this is currently useless to me as I can't read the instructions). We also got sake calendars which apparently are much collected, something that sake lovers wait all year for. Upstairs there is a library with some nice exhibits, including big scrapbooks filled with sake bottle labels. The best part of the visit was finding out that later in the afternoon there would be a large sake tasting. There were about 325 sakes to taste and I did a pretty good job. Spread throughout the room were several spittoons which I laughed at at first, but by about the 5th sake I too was spitting like a pro. Mayu was with me and she is from Chiba, so we made a point of trying all the sake from Chiba. That was fun as it put a focus on the tasting that I otherwise wouldn't have achieved. All the tasters received an official "sake samurai" tasting cup, a very nice souvenir.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


While visiting Nagasaki we stayed at a spa resort on Ioujima. Check out the iron kettles we sat in while looking out onto the harbor and the volcanic ash we COOKED in at the spa. We had dinner at the resort both nights, the first being a Healthy Meal, the highlight of which was collagen jelly and the second being an entire meal of various courses of fugu. We had fugu sashimi, fugu nabe, deep fried fugu and seared fugu. For this meal we brought the bottle of nama sake that I picked up from the mama-san in Osaka. I had a sake flight with the healthy meal, but, unfortunately, I didn't take notes.

In Nagasaki we visited the Atomic Bomb Museum and we all felt that the displays were much more graphic than those in Hiroshima. If you want to get a first-hand account of the day the bomb was dropped and its aftermath, you should read The Bells of Nagasaki by Takashi Nagai, a doctor who cared for the sick and dying while he was sick himself. It's very moving. Also (on a lighter note) the doctor advocated using sake for medicinal purposes:
"Rice wine, or sake, proved to be an excellent medicine. There were examples of dying persons being cured at the last moment by drinking a large quantity of their favorite sake."

Nagasaki is a sister city of St. Paul's and we were charmed to find a St. Paul Street and even a St. Paul parking garage!


On our final day in Osaka (way back in December), Mayu and I spent the afternoon at Spa World where I contemplated sticking my feet in a pool swarming with minnows as this is supposed to be very relaxing. I chickened out at the last minute... Afterwards we met Rob at the station and left for Hiroshima.

We went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum which was very moving, although Mayu and I were still a little numb from visiting the Killing Fields and S-21 in Cambodia. Still, seeing melted bottles and iron shutters and children's burned school uniforms and charred lunch boxes was sobering. We found that in Hiroshima, as we would find in Nagasaki and as we had found in Cambodia, the residents were really concerned that the world remember what happened.

At our two meals in Hiroshima, we also found that the locals were very proud of their food and their jizake. On our first night we stopped a young couple on the street and Mayu asked if they knew of a good izakaya and they excitedly told us they had just had a great meal at one and they walked with us for several blocks to show us where it was. It was called Hina Matsuri (which is the Girl's festival on March 3rd). The chefs were so happy to have us there. I must say, everyone loves Mayu and she makes friends very easily, luckily for us! We ate tuna, octopus, sardine and yellowtail sashimi, grilled Japanese smelt, agadashi tofu, fried chicken, yakitori, and we were presented by the chef with Hiroshima style ozoni (a mochi in soup) that is usually only eaten on New Years Day. We asked for Hiroshima sake and were given Ugo no Tsuki, about which John Gauntner has this to say:
Ugo no Tsuki, or "the moon after rain," is among Hiroshima's finest. It has a soft and melting quality, perhaps better closer to room temperature than chilled, as a well-grounded sweetness and several ripe fruit essences become apparent. Clean and light. You don't need to go as far as a daiginjo, either. Ugo no Tsuki also makes a fine tokubetsu junmai that is similar but perhaps more sturdy and less airy.
I've found that I can get it in the U.S., so it's on my list of things to'll be nice to partially relive that special meal.

The next day we went to Miyajima Island and visited the floating torii, the wild yet tame deer, and the streets full of cute shops. We stopped at a tiny restaurant and had tonkatsu, chicken and rice and fried oysters and lots of beer. For the ferry ride back to the mainland, we bought momiji manju which are maple shaped sweets.

Our dinner that night was actually one of the highlights of the trip for me. Mayu used her amazing skills to hunt down an out of the way izakaya called Shikon (shi = lion; kon = spirit or soul). A trio of young people owned and operated the restaurant and they were thrilled to find out that I was interested in sake and very proud of Hiroshima sake. Miho said that her favorite sake was Biho, brewed by a lady brewer also named Miho. There apparently is some connection between the characters for mi and bi which is why Miho named her sake Biho. I only realized after I got home that this is the same brewery that makes Moon on the Water which I can buy right here in Minneapolis.

Our Miho suggested that we go to Chokotto, a local sake bar, and she actually walked us there and stayed and had a few drinks with us. The snacks were delicious: pickled eggplant, daikon radish, Hiroshima greens, roasted ginko nuts. We were also served an extraordinary water that a local brewery used for it's sake and Miho explained to us how important water is while drinking sake. She said we should take a sip of water between every sip of sake. We left Chokotto very satiated and with new friends and a poster showing Hiroshima sake labels.